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1. Write a credit dispute letter
As soon as you notice a piece of incorrect information on a credit report, compose a dispute letter that you'll send to whichever of the three main credit bureaus — Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian — issued the report. All three will allow you to report your dispute online or by mail.
In your letter, provide your contact information and clearly state the nature of the error. Some possible credit report errors can include:
- Identity issues, like if your name is misspelled, your phone number or address are incorrect, or other personal information (such as your Social Security number) is wrong.
- Incorrectly reported accounts, such as a closed credit account that's still listed as open, or an account that's mistakenly noted as delinquent.
- Erroneous account balance and credit limit information, like a false report of a maxed-out credit card.
- Previously corrected information that has reverted back to being wrong.
Helpful dispute form letters can be found online, including on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau's website.
You should gather any paperwork that supports your case, and make copies to be sent along with the letter. These could include bank statements, emails or credit card bills that show how you paid, when you paid, and other information supporting your claim that the account you're disputing is in good standing.
When you provide evidence of faulty information on a credit report, the credit bureau reporting the error won't be able to dismiss your case as frivolous.
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2. Call the offending credit bureau
The next step is to call the credit reporting agency that's causing you all the trouble. Explain the issue, and say you’ll be sending documentation of the error, either electronically or via snail-mail.
After the call, send your dispute letter and supporting documents either through the portal on the credit bureau's website or by certified mail. If using the mail, make sure to request a return receipt so you'll have proof that the credit agency received the letter.
Here are the three major credit bureaus' mailing addresses and phone numbers for dealing with disputes.
Equifax Information Services
- P.O. Box 740256
- Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
TransUnion Consumer Solutions
- P.O. Box 2000
- Chester, PA 19022-2000
Experian Dispute Department
- P.O. Box 9701
- Allen, TX 75013
3. Contact the creditor that reported the error
Once your letter is on its way, you’ll want to call the creditor associated with the bad information on your report. It could be your bank, auto lender, a credit card issuer, or some other financial institution.
Let the company know about the error, and say you’ll be sending along a copy of your dispute letter and your supporting documents.
It’s essential that the creditor set its own records straight to avoid false reporting in the future. If the company agrees that a mistake has been made and moves to make things right, ask that the change be reported to all three major credit bureaus.
Some experts recommend contacting the creditor first, since it will need to contact the credit bureau about the mistake anyway — saving you a step.
But if your credit report error is identity-related, you’ll still need to report it directly to the bureau, since the problem is likely on the agency's end and not the fault of the creditor.
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4. Await the results of the investigation and review them
The credit bureau with the erroneous report (again, that's either Experian, Equifax or TransUnion) must investigate your dispute within 30 days.
You'll receive the findings in writing, which may take up to 45 days.
If the bank or other creditor that provided the questionable information agrees with you that an error was made, that company is supposed to notify all three bureaus to correct their files on you.
But if the investigation fails to resolve the situation and the disputed material stays on your report, you should ask the credit bureau that looked into the matter to include a statement in its file detailing the issue you raised.
When negative information you disputed turns out to be accurate, it will eventually fall off your credit report — though that can take up to seven years.
5. Get a free, revised credit report
When things turn out for the better and the dispute process results in an item being changed or removed from your credit report, the credit bureau you've been working with will send you a free copy of your new and improved report, so you can see how your efforts paid off.
The report doesn't count as the free credit report you're entitled to every year from each of the big-three credit agencies — you can still get one of those from the credit bureau at some other point during the year.
You can ask the credit agency in question to send notices of the correction to any creditor or other company that received a copy of your report in the last six months.
You also can have the updated version sent to any employer who asked to see your credit report within the last two years.
MORE: Here's how to build good credit.
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